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King Richard III: DNA and genealogical study confirms identity of remains

An international research team led by Dr Turi King from the University of Leicester Department of Genetics, part-funded by The Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust, provides overwhelming evidence that the skeleton discovered under a car park in Leicester indeed represents the remains of King Richard III, thereby closing what is probably the oldest forensic case solved to date.

The team of researchers, including Professor of English Local History, Kevin Schürer, who is also ProVice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Leicester, who led the genealogical research for the project, has published their findings online in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.

Dr King said:“Our paper covers all the genetic and genealogical analysis involved in the identification of the remains of Skeleton 1 from the Greyfriars site in Leicester and is the first to draw together all the strands of evidence to come to a conclusion about the identity of those remains. Even with our highly conservative analysis, the evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of King Richard III, thereby closing an over 500 year old missing person’s case.”

The researchers collected DNA from living relatives of Richard III and analysed several genetic markers, including the complete mitochondrial genomes, inherited through the maternal line, and Y-chromosomal markers, inherited through the paternal line, from both the skeletal remains and the living relatives.

While the Y-chromosomal markers differ, the mitochondrial genome shows a genetic match between the skeleton and the maternal line relatives. The former result is not unsurprising as the chances for a false paternity event is fairly high after so many generations. This paper is also the first to carry out a statistical analysis of all the evidence together to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Skeleton 1 from the Greyfriars site in Leicester is indeed the remains of King Richard III.

The researchers also used genetic markers to determine hair and eye colour of RIII and found that with probably blond hair and almost certainly blue eyes RIII looked most similar to his depiction in one of the earliest portraits of him that survived, that in the Society of Antiquaries in London.

The research team now plans to sequence the complete genome of RIII to learn more about the last English king to die in battle.

The University of Leicester was the principal funder of the research. Dr King’s post is part-funded by The Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust.

The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society ‘Identification of the remains of King Richard III’ in Nature Communications, DOI:10.1038/ncomms6631

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